Sunday, July 31, 2005

X-Country Journal

With what joy in my heart did I, having suffered the infernal heats and sweats of the Central Valley, crest the hills into Richmond and feel percuss upon my skin the healing, cool breezes and fogs of the SF bay, knowing that I would soon see Anna and Noah and our new home and all else full of promises rich and strange. Five days of nearly constant locomotion; even while I was asleep the road kept slipping under me. A lovely visit with GG in Normal, Illinois (see picture above). Gabe's still basically insane in his own special and inimitable way, so it's good to know that town's name has only served as an inducement to irony. Kansas, Kansas, etc. A place they call Denver; the high plains of Wyoming; the salt flats of Utah. Terrible twenty-car accident in the Great Basin of Nevada, the westbound lanes of I-80 become a helicopter landing pad for a good three hours. I've never seen anything like it, and I hope never to see such a thing again. There must be a way to transport goods that doesn't involve deadly behemoth tractor-trailers manned by underslept and probably malnourished people, given the food options on the road (burger after burger after burger). After that, I failed to cause any real substantial trouble in Reno. Not in the mood. But I did take a lovely little walk at Donner Summit the following day.

The truck arrives later this afternoon, and so, with my already ravaged body, I'll haul all of our things up into our new second-and-third-floor apartment at University Village in Albany. The townhouses there are surprisingly handsome, with lots of light and air, and a communal feeling--toys everywhere, friendly albeit exhausted looking student parents, joy-stricken children--that's probably rare these days. Smaller, of course, than our house in Ithaca, but many perquisites.

If you are alive mostly in the Bay Area and are reading this, please do let me know how I can find out about poetry readings. I'm eager to begin living here with my ears.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Driving x-country early tomorrow morning, going back to Cali' (after twelve years) so the blog will be down until the 1st of August at least. I plan to visit Gabe in Normal, IL. I've got Paradise Lost on the iPod, as well as newest Kazuo Ishiguro novel which, people tell me, is actually good. I'll let you know.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Hmm. Since I've now heard this a few times, I suppose I should chime in vis-a-vis Tate and Young. In college, I worshipped these two guys, wanted to be them, read their books to tatters at the expense of other kinds of things I could have been reading. And perhaps for this reason, a personal reason, I can't really get into recent work by either one. Since The Worshipful Company of Fletchers, Tate seems on autopilot, virtually lobotomized-- a member not of the School of Quietude but as Jordan renames it, the School of Klonopin--and although I get that he's aiming for a it's-so-boring-and-dull-and-empty-it's-funny kind of humor, I ain't feeling it. Incidentally, I don't like most of Andy Kaufman either, so perhaps I lack the necessary brain centers for this kind of humor. With recent Young, I miss the ferocity and extemporaneity of Strike Anywhere, his ability to riff in wide orbits on the smallest and most petty and ridiculous of occasions. In all of his writing since, I get an eagerness to impress and a devicey, algorithmic goofiness. I do occasional find myself knocked down by a poem or two, but I feel sad, mostly, that he got so much attention for doing what comes so easily to him--goofing off in the back of the class. To my mind, Young's the class clown; Tate doesn't even show up to class. (When, as an undergraduate, I went, heart in hand, to petition to get into his workshop, he could only answer in two words: "Not possible.") If I had to choose, and I'd prefer not to, I'd take the early and middle Tate, from Oblivion Ha-Ha onto Fletchers--there's more punk-rock in Tate, more revisionary humor as opposed to humor about things we already find funny/annoying, more necessary and vital affront to what we expect(ed) from poetry. Young, on the other hand, seems to be operating within the bounds of a certain dignity and propriety. There may be more craft in Young, more verbal pizzazz and a more voracious imagination, but there's also that lemon-scent Pledge smell. Mary Ruefle, on the other hand, does everything Young does and more.

As for Vallejo, The Black Heralds has its brilliant moments--I enjoyed Eshelman's translation in the recent APR--but it's probably not the place to start. Read anything from Eshelman's translation of his posthumous poems "El hecho is que el llugar. . . (The fact is the place. . .") or "Nueve Monstruous" or anything in the immediate vicinity of these poems. "Tengo un miedo de ser. . . (I have a terrible fear . . ." [I don't have my book, so I may be misquoting.] Whenever I read these poems, I'm convinced that he's as good of a poet as they come--compassion, rage, dazzling intelligence--a completely original and oblique diction, corkscrew syntax, delicious exclamation points and too many dashes!--alternating between tortuous description and flat, plain declaration. He underwrites every bit of sentiment or directness that he conveys in those poems, emerging as it does out of the most gravelly, pixelated and visceral confusion. I find his lack of anxiety about big nouns--fear, time, love, desire and Co.-- refreshing.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

As I always do when it comes on, I'm wondering if the version of "In a Sentimental Mood" on Money Jungle is the most beautiful song in the world.

Once again, the sensitive and melodramatic trouble-maker Tim Yu is sane and sensible.

It'll look elsewise elsewhere.

Not much time for a detailed response here (caught up in the translation of self we call moving), but as I'm still irked after a couple of days, I do feel compelled to say that I prefer "confusion" to the kinds of easy certitudes expressed in this post by the usually wonderful and thrilling Kasey Mohammed. What makes the Lib. of America anthology work, and I do think it's successful despite some grievous intra-poet omissions ("Discrete Series" yo!), is that multiple editors with different aesthetics were involved. I, for one, do want an anthology that includes both C.K. Williams and Susan Howe, Richard Wilbur and Bernadette Mayer (I'm not intentionally gendering these pairs). If, a la Godel, we have to choose between consistency or completeness; or a la Heisenberg, location or velocity, I'll take the latter.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Oh, and a google of warm thanks to Jordan for putting me in his 2005 poems list. Twice! I'm truly honored to have my work noted by such a reader's reader.

An interesting observation, this. My first reaction is to recall the late 'eighties and early 'nineties, and with them a poetry lousy/scintillant with angels-- lexicological angels and supercomputing angels, voyeur angels, all of course puppeted by the tragic figure of Benjamin's angel. If the troupe of angelic tropes had to do with the dawning of the information age, with an awareness of our increasingly media-ted lives, and the need for some hyperquick poetic figure which could thread and braid and create a space for us there, what then might the more condensed, and more removed, transcendent figure of God suggest? Perhaps, as Jane suggests, I can't really do without ethical thinking right now (or SSRI's!) and after I hit a certain bandwidth of "news," I'm hankering for some kind of human or inhuman force that tells me going on just might make sense. And then, of course, there's the qualitative change in fundamentalist Christianity here in Gringolandia, not more of it but more of it visible, met as it is with fundamentalisms Muslim and Jewish behind the painted screens of which the corporations could, like, give a fuck. If I grew up with a Christian framework, I would want to hollow out that rhetoric from the inside, rub Kierkegaard in Bush's face, and show him how far he is from anything like real faith, incapable of doubt or indecision as he is. Even Jesus doubted, right? Some days I'm completely nauseated with it, and the word "christian" is a synonym for fascist. Then I read someone like Fanny Howe, or Kierk., or even Augustine and think, wait, wait, that's right, this is what it's about.

A few years ago, I probably would have gotten existentialist on the quiz, too, but I got creative constructionist . The SSRI's only work, really, in a pinch, only give me enough time to start cooking up some of the stuff in my own brainpan: "It is not enough to cover the rock with leaves. / We must be cured of it by a cure of the ground / Or a cure of ourselves, that is equal to a cure of the ground." Like Ange, I worry that anything more than a daytrip to the punk-rock mentality might freak out the kid, as much as he, too, likes to listen to X or Bad Brains. 3 days out of 5, I'd rather be a reasonably happy sophist than a miserable debunker of illusions. But wait, I'm reading Bataille today; I'm in Williamsburg of the Piercings where the people around me are so cool they can barely stand each other, and I just helped Daniel move the contents of his apartment while sweating a veritable Mississippi's worth of overpriced bottled water. . .

Thursday, July 14, 2005

OK, Cotter gets it wrong but at least he recognized Daniel's accomplishment (scroll down to the end of page 5).

And his sis gets good press for her chiffonification and detournement of an abandoned Paris playground.

Congrats to the Subs.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Siting Camp

It looks as if the conversation about Chris Nealon's "Camp Messianism" article is almost over (for those of you wanting to read it who don't have access to Project Muse, please, please, don't pay twelve dollars--talk about exchange value!--for the thing. Find a university library that carries American Literature). Ange chimes in by noting that, in her experience, the deployment of Frankfurt school Marxism as a theoretical model for experimental poetry may indicate a period style, and might therefore tell us that there are things such a style will not, or cannot, think, given its self-reinforcing qualities. (She doesn't go this far, and is surprisingly value-neutral, but I think this is her implication). Probably right, but the whole point of Nealon's article is to articulate an emerging stance among post-avant poets, a passive rather than active relation to capitalism and its vicissitudes, motivated in part by the social changes of the late 90's--globalization, the micro-infiltration of technology, etc.--and the ensuing hopelessness. (What to attack? Where's the machine actually located?) Ironic camp, a kind of mock-submission to the laws of consumerism, emerges as a sort of passive-aggressive strategy to resist the encroachment of Starbucks and Walmart and the great surplusses of late-late capitalism that, nevertheless, don't ensure survival for the world's poor, let alone America's poor. (Worth noting here, in response to Jeffery Bahr and Henry Gould , that the whole point of this article is to demonstrate the inadequacy of terms like capitalism and even late-capitalism: hence late-late capitalism. Calling this ahistorical is like calling a tomato inorganic: like, what?). Nealon's identifying a poetry of affect rather than direct linguistic confrontation, of stance rather than performance, or perhaps of stance as performance. For an example, we need look no further than Chris Nealon's own The Joyous Age, where the dominant lyric gesture is not "I am x, I am y" but rather "I like x, I feel [insert emotion] toward y." It's a stance that would gather in the orphaned objects of capitalism, that would work against, in Joshua Clover's words (perhaps borrowed from a Situationist text) "things made things" via the invention of "new desires." I, for one, find this useful as a way of looking at some current poetry and thinking on poetry that I come across these days, whereas it doesn't seem as productive in relation to the work of 'eighties and 'nineties langpo--which situates repressive political power in language itself--or certain NY school writing (I can't believe I'm using this odious term), which translates political and ethical problems into aesthetic ones. (Warning: dangerous categorical claims above. I reserve the right to take everything back). For my money, what could better demonstrate the wish to take all of the flimflam of consumerism to the redemption center and turn it into something life-affirming than this poem? One might identify a similar stance in Susan Wheeler's Ledger, Corey's Fourier Series and perhaps even in Ange's poems too. Who knows if "camp messianism" will prove a useful marker in the coming years. It's a campsite; you don't stay there forever. That's the whole point, I think: refusing to imagine a forever like this one.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I'm glad that everything I had wanted to add to the paraphrase/meaning discussion already got said. For me, the only way into the full experience of the poem is through an attempt to account for or paraphrase what's going on as I read it--even Gertrude Stein or Clark Coolidge. I'm not sure I know how to read words without producing mental words (or sometimes images, a visual or sensual paraphrase). Then, when and if I feel the failure of that paraphrase to do justice to all of the multiple levels of sense and experience at play, I know I'm in the presence of magnificence. As O'Hara, always a good closer, says: "I’m not saying that I don’t have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today, but what difference does that make? They’re just ideas. The only good thing about it is that when I get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Which (see below), would probably swivel us toward pedagogy and child-labor laws.

Yes, yes, and Wittgenstein would probably add, given his talent for analogy, that even if the poem's pure cream, in consuming it we become the cakey surround: the meaning of a word its use in a language etc. An occasion for thought: some of it fun, some of it dreary and hateful.

Friday, July 08, 2005


I'm packing up the house and feeling those Proustian emotions-- pleasure-edged sadness, and brief interruptive transmissions of hobbling anxiety, which the displacement of belongings always seems to liberate. I belong to them as much or more than they belong to me: as if the stable arrangement of baby-ravaged IKEA furniture, books and CDs, the sprawl of toys, the foodstuffs crammed in cabinets, all served to ballast and modulate and temper some kind of primary vertigo, anomie, that cast-away I was at zero seconds old. It's exciting in a way; terrifying as it is, there's an abundance in the spinning compass. I've always hoped that word was related to compassion.

So these things, these products, this greaty bounty, so much trash and ridiculous excess the divestment of which feels like any number of unnameable bodily functions, have been doing the job of narrating my life here in Ithaca for years now. Not ten years to return but seven to leave. They've done a good job, these things, told a good and compelling story, one of loss and delusion, love and more love, propinquity and friendship and meaningful work. But there could have been so many other stories. I see that now. I see that I'm basically a machine for moving, and there's a cruelty in that I'm not sure I can brook.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

At the chess tables a few hours ago, Dennis says "Well, it looks like it's bad guys 3, good guys 1." From where I stand, it's a total fucking shutout. Unless in your book the good guys are the ones who make money whichever way the bodies or markets fall. But it's not a game, and there's no numerical system that can keep score.

If it's true what Chirac says that you can't trust people who eat poorly, neither can you trust those who eat well. We don't suffer immediate consequences from stupidity. I like French food, but I'll be the first to admit that their marvelous gastronomical culture is built around the principle of making putrefaction not only palatable but delicious. Cirrhotic goose liver? Calves' brains? Such skills in the kitchen probably arose from times of famine when there was nothing to be had but offal. Every great perfume has a note of something horrible in it: death or shit, musk or civet extract or unspecifiable rot. It makes the flowers last. Similarly, as Sontag points out, every great beauty has some inexcusable feature, something exaggerated or grotesque or plain ugly. Perfection's ugly. Witness Angelina Jolie.

But of course it shouldn't escape our attention that the culinary insults begin to fly just before the leaders of the fed world decide just how badly Africa will starve, just how sick we'll let Africa get, and whether global warming can be headed off without reducing consumption.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Bush's less-than-subtle wink to the footsoldiers of the end days, promising judicial candidates who "strictly and faithfully interpret the Constitution," makes me wonder if his kind of faith permits interpretation. Indeed, I wonder if the guy has ever interpreted anything. Every object of contemplation that he happens upon seems to mirror his preconceived convictions. He'd be the kid in my literature class who avoids analyzing a poem by way of platitude and loquacious pseudo-philosophical flatulence. And everything in a convoluted passive voice, everything acted upon by invisible outside forces.


With uncanny timing, Noah Feldman's article in this Sunday's NYT magazine does suggest an actual honest-to-god (pun intended) political solution to the redstate/bluestate impasse: cut off govermental money for religion but permit the legislative exercise of religious convictions. Unfortunately, although it sounds good and all, I don't really buy the idea that you can put dollars in one room and ideology in the other. Wouldn't allowing a school board to vote in "intelligent design" mean, by way of federal monies, a de facto financing of ideology? And don't we have a right to protect those unfortunate kids in Denton who want the straight dope? It seems a recipe for a sort of ideological Yugoslavia, with belief-system refugees flooding to the places where it's still, mostly, safe to think some things sometimes.


Saturday, July 02, 2005

Dear Sir,

I am returning the enclosed gene marker, for which I can no longer find any legal, profitable, or even enjoyable use. I no longer believe it to be a lost poem of Sappho. Please dispose of it in accordance with section 27 of the statutory code.

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Proteus Minimus

A long overdue word about Daniel Subkoff's show:

As he had called me up a week prior to ask if I or anyone I knew owned a gun, I was, um, relieved that 1) there were no dead bodies and 2) I never even had the chance to ask myself if I liked it, so immediate were the pleasures, and so deep the spaces for contemplation it opened. I'm a sucker for anything that moves from the 2-d to the 3-d and back, pieces where the surface en- and -unfolds, and Daniel's bigger work, featuring primed canvas from which long strips are cut to form ladders that then attach to the floor and ceiling, suggested as much the invitingness of the blank canvas as its constrictions. I want to see a whole series of these. The other piece, an ink drawing, should remind anyone of their worst erotic relationships--two figures constituted by and enmeshed within the webs they've cast around each other. Yikes. But the ultimate vote of approval came from Noah, who appreciated the hook-and-ladder truck imagery of the first offering. Nothing else came close, not even the gold potatoes, and Anna and I were so glad to have made it down that weekend. For the first time in far too long, Anna didn't have to miss something fun due to those parental duties for which I can't, to my great chagrin, sub. Do other men get jealous that they can't breastfeed? I'm not sure I'd want the frontal appearance that goes with it but he's always so calm and sweet and happy when he's nursing. Or maybe this is all some banal Freudian displacement which you can surely figure out on your own.

Anyway, if you're in or near Chinatown anytime soon, you should check Daniel out. You'll be better off without the solid, unventilated mass of people and only the King of Beers to dull the effect of their less-than-rigorous bathing schedules, I promise. Stay tuned for news of future productions from Daniel.


Finally watched Bad Education last night, and despite everyone's claims that the absence of women--except as through-the-looking-glass images of the male characters' lives--had caused Almodovar to lose his edge, I was impressed with the first half of the movie, which placed me squarely between discomfort and descriptive rapture, in the style of Flaubert or Nabokov. Problem is, the films gets caught up in its obligations to plot elements, caught in the gears and cogs of Borgesian frame-breaking, and fails, I suppose, to push me all the way to the contemplation of infinity that good plots like this do. I get bored with the nesting structures of play-within-play, and not even the scene of a man pretending to be his tranvestite brother playing a film character based on his brother's life, who's in turn pretending, within the film, to be that character's sister, or whatever, could save it. Almodovar's best, I think, when he thinks in seeing, not doing, and with all of these loose-ends to tie up there's no time left for his brilliance with mise-en-scene, nor does his camp and kink really gel with all of the twists and turns. But it's definitely worth watching.

Friday, July 01, 2005

A couple of daydreams from the mordant Ange Mlinko. Version 1: "Freedom Tower" in the sense that a building is dedicated to its deceased benefactor. Version 2: a 1,776 ft. lightning rod so that the rest of us can go about with the business of our lives. All of this by way of Jane, by way of the the NYT: "impregnable" as in sterile, barren.